Friday, May 23, 2014

"We Don't Do The Things You Do, But We Live Around Here, Too"

By Kara Tucker

This is a response to a Facebook post, talking about Mr. RuPaul Charles' latest doubling and tripling down on his approval of the word "tranny" and the way a couple of trans women have chosen to defend him.
In many ways, it's a version 2.0 of my piece from April. I'll say that neither RuPaul, nor his supporters, have backed down from their beliefs on the matter or from their individual tactics since my piece in early April. With that, let's continue.

There are so many things to say right now.
1. RuPaul is, at the end of the day, a cisgender gay man who dresses up only for professional reasons. He calls them his "work clothes." He is no more a "she" than Martin Lawrence is for doing the "Big Momma's House" movies.

2. As such, no matter his background in the NYC club scene, he is still a man. As such, he is in no position to tell trans women not to be offended by it. It is also clear that he is aware of how offensive his slur usage is to many, but doesn’t care. It’s not “tone-deaf carelessness,” as Addams put it.

3. If there were any doubt about Mr. Charles' identity, his responses to the two slurs speak volumes. He's made it clear repeatedly he LOVES the word "T****y" while, when Amanda Bynes used the word "f******s" in a tweet to People Magazine, he said, "Derogatory slurs are ALWAYS an outward projection of a person's own poisonous self-loathing "

4. If that's the case, Mr. Charles must have a lot of poisonous self-loathing.

5. Mr. Charles fails to realize that, although he is not a trans woman, by virtue of his position and his attitude, some people view him as some version of such. When he continues to gleefully defend the slur, he becomes the de facto “Trans Friend” for people who don’t know better. So, while he’s safely relaxing at home as a man, trans women get to “enjoy” being referred to by the slur because he helps normalize it.

6. Yes, some trans women aren’t offended by it. Yes, some use it. But, first, they’re allowed to use it, as the direct target. Second. Why the insistence on making its usage the default? What is so wrong with acknowledging that the word is viewed as a slur by many? Why insist that it’s okay for all?

7. “B****h, you need to get stronger.” Memo to Mr. Charles and his apologists. It’s not the late ‘80s/early ‘90s anymore. Things change, hopefully for the better. One would think you’d actually want things to be better. Taking a “Well, I had to go through it. Toughen up, b****h” attitude, instead of saying, “Hey, maybe people shouldn’t use words that hurt so many. Maybe I shouldn’t use those words.”
If Mr. Charles really feels this way, I eagerly await his series of “Go ahead, say ‘It’s gay’” PSAs where he tells bullied gay kids to “toughen up, b***h”, “it’s your fault for giving those words power” and “Stop being a victim, you little f****t.”

8. If Mr. Charles is this great “icon who has done more for the trans community than anybody” (I’ve seen that said), than it would be nice if he spoke out against the vile transphobia and misogyny of some of his defenders. He doesn’t have to look far to find it.

9. Speaking of the defenders, try to learn a little first. I’ve heard the excuse of “Oh, ‘You’ve got she-mail’” is just a pun on ‘You’ve got mail.’ It’s fun!”
I would suggest that those defenders look up the name Janice Raymond and learn just how loaded and offensive the word “S*****e” is to trans people. That woman did untold damage to trans people everywhere, due to the negative impacts the efforts she and her ilk had on trans health care. Damage that is still being undone in areas. So, yeah, you’ll forgive me if I don’t appreciate your little “fun” pun playing off a word first popularized by a woman who has the blood of trans people on her hands.

10. Some people want to make this out to be an “Oh, you hate drag” issue. Absolutely not. It is an art form and Mr. Charles has been as successful with it as anybody has been. It is also a safe space for some trans women to first explore who they are. A friend of mine, someone who’s not a performer, said to me a couple months ago that drag queens saved her life. They allowed her an avenue for herself to start appearing, a way out of the misery she was in. Today, she’s living a great life.
It’s not about drag. It’s about showing a little more respect for women. And, for the love of all that’s holy and decent, it is NOT homophobic to call this kind of stuff out.

11. Side point about drag lingo, just because I’ve seen defenders try to make this point. Yes, we’re aware the origins of the term “fish” are kind of gross and misogynist. However, I highly doubt any woman has been attacked, beaten and/or killed by someone yelling “Fish!” at her.  Not the case with trans women and (not censoring in this paragraph) “tranny”, “shemale”, “he/she”, “shim”, etc.
As another friend put it, “When I hear tranny or shemale in public, I know to be ready to run.”

12. On to James and Addams, “disappointment” would be a good word. I know some people say there is no such thing as a “trans community.” They sort of have a point, but I tend to view it as there isn’t a unified trans community. It’s like any actual community. There are varied neighborhoods and degrees of interaction between them. There are good people and bad people and in-between, neighborhoods most people like and others perhaps best avoided.
For me, these two women have made it clear that I should not be in their neighborhood, that it is not a place where I could feel safe or welcomed.

13. How so? Well, for starters, I’m bi, I haven’t been in transition as long as they have and I don’t support Mr. Charles' right to keep slinging slurs on his show. He's not a "jester," he's a successful businessman, one whose brand of drag is as "punk" as a T-shirt at Hot Topic these days.
As for the first part, it’s really rather unseemly for them to continue to attack lesbian trans women (or “transbians” as AJ does, stealing a TERF term). The not-so-subtle message is clear: “Straight white women are the normal ones. The lesbians are the nutty fringe. We’re normal. They’re the easily offended kooks.”
Not only is this wrong-headed, it’s also incorrect. There are PLENTY of straight trans women who have no use for Mr. Charles use of “t****y” and “s*****e.”

14. The none-too-subtle misgendering tactic of invoking the “male privilege” tack against critics? Very divisive. For one, it presupposes that every trans woman who disagrees with them lived a perfect male life, free of any and all strife. Oh, sure, there were the beatings and verbal abuse, the suicide attempts, the broken relationships with family and partners, the various stop-and-starts in coming to terms with who they were, but hey, according to them, every trans woman was nothing but happily awash in male privilege until they one day decided to be "newly-minted queer" and flipped a switch.

15. Not to mention that once transition is under way,  that whole male privilege thing tends to disappear pretty fast. Again, all of the poor reactions from people that can happen towards someone in their lives that transition – more negative work, family and home environments, etc. Plus, the changes in daily life, from having to be even more cautious as a woman than as a man in public to finding that men tend to talk over you now. But, please, tell us more about “male privilege” in this instance.
Oh, and women who don’t have trans history don’t disagree ever, apparently. Because only a “male” would do so? Yep, divisive.

16. When Justin “Alaska T*********k” Honard put out a video that ended with a mock execution of a trans woman critical of Mr. Charles (complete with simulated head wound), James called it a “hilarious riff.” Yes, because there is nothing more hilarious than simulated murder of trans women. I’m sure the video would be a big hit at TDOR services this fall. Again, divisive.
To Honard’s credit, he realized how wrongheaded the video was. He took it down and offered a sincere apology for it.

17. In her Boing Boing piece, James said, “Trans separatists like Molloy also spend a lot of time fighting online with lesbian separatists, some of whom reject trans lesbians the same way these trans lesbians want little to do with crossdressing or drag."
False equivalency, party of one.
The "lesbian separatists" James refers do  more than "reject trans lesbians." They attack and misgender ALL trans people, particularly women. They seek to out them. They've tried to interfere with their employment, with their medical care in some places.
I do not know, nor do I care to, Andrea James' birth name. But in the world of "lesbian separatists", she will always be that old name, she will always be a "man" and her using the ladies room "is the act of a predator."  Indeed, her very act of transition would be referred to as "rape."
There is a HUGE difference between actively seeking to deny rights to a whole group of people and attacking them offline versus wanting to have more widespread representation of trans life and to have gay men not use transphobic language.
Calling people who want the latter “trans separatists”? Yep, divisive.

18. For people who talk about others being “easily offended special snowflakes” who were “raised on smugf*****y”, they seem awfully defensive. For people who think others “seek to be offended”, they’ve made a point of saying they “talked to the producers personally” about the “Female or S*****e” segment (and not in an approving way, mind you).

19. Back to point No. 7. Part of this is generational.  One can acknowledge that things were tougher for those who transitioned, as Addams and James did, back then and for gay men like Charles. Things are nowhere near where they should be now, but they are better.
That said, there seems to be a bit of a bitter edge of “Well, I went through this, so I don’t see why you’re complaining,” as if the worse conditions of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s should remain in place.
One would hope that people would want things to be better for those who follow them down the path, just as it was better for James and Addams than it was for those who did it a generation prior, just as I hope that things keep getting better for future generations than it is for myself and others in 2014.
Even if you don’t think every younger person (or in my case, later on the transition path) isn’t showing what you feel is proper deference, that shouldn’t stop you from wanting and working to make things better, including acknowledging that your "fun words" are in fact looked upon by a lot of trans people as slurs that do hurt and maybe caring about it, rather than saying, in essence, "You don't like it? Screw you."

20. Oh, yes, I’m well aware that, as some point out elsewhere, there are greater issues – the violence, the well-above-average suicide rates, the employment and housing discrimination, etc. facing the community. Just because some things are more important doesn’t make others non-important. Just because someone speaks out on such an issue doesn’t mean they don’t care about or speak to the greater issues. I can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time and I am, shockingly, capable of caring about multiple issues. Stunning, I know.

19. As I wrote almost two months ago – “’A wise woman said, "Somewhere, somehow, there is room for all of us.’”

That still has to be the hope.
But, for now, Addams and James have created a section of the community where a vast number of trans people don't feel welcome -- not just the people who felt alienated by their often heteronormative approach before, but by people such as myself, who have to weigh what Addams and James have written in recent weeks.
In their world, I am apparently a trans woman whose opinions don't matter.
Luckily, there are plenty of other neighborhoods in the community where I do feel welcome, where I feel I would be greeted with open arms rather than middle fingers and a slap in the face.
Hopefully one day, there will be more neighborhoods that are welcoming, including theirs. But for now, I’ll continue to happily live my life and enjoy the other places in the community as well as the world at large.

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